Remember last year when I hadn’t been travelling much? Not really? Well, my bad since I didn’t write that much about it.
I’m happy to announce that I will be travelling more frequently in the coming months. Hurray!
This Friday, I’m flying to Ho Chi Minh city and travelling to My Tho for my friend Nguyen’s wedding.
Nguyen is a very important person in my journey to being an independent travelling woman. I can’t find a right term to describe her impact in my travelling life but the closest I can get is “travel role model”.
Nguyen and I met while I was on exchange at Xiamen University in China. She was in graduate school while I was an exchange student who was supposed to take journalism and advertising classes.
I was the first batch of exchange students at Xiamen University. There was another guy who was in Engineering so we had different classes. The staff at Xiamen University didn’t know how to handle exchange students so they dumped me at the Overseas Education College.
It was a complete mess. Instead of being assigned to real lectures, they expected me to take random classes for the students who were there to learn about the Chinese language and culture. Eventually, I sorted out half of the problem and had to solve the rest of the problem by taking extra modules back in Singapore.
But thank to the mess, I met Nguyen. I took a totally random class on singing and met her there. She was extroverted and joked with the teacher a lot. I’m quite the opposite.
At the end of the class, I invited myself to her dinner. She graciously accepted my self-invite.
Hi folks, if you’ve been following me on my social media channels, you’ll know that I went to Cameron Highland last weekend for a wedding.
As much as I like to write about the road trip, I kept getting writer’s block so I give you another post instead.
I’ll be talking about my current obsession (apart from playing Skyrim and improv which I’ll get to these one of these days)–fountain pens. I have these little spurts of obsessions from time to time. I can’t really remember my other obsessions (um, travel?) so I’d better jot this down.
(A belated Caturday post.)
I love cats. I’ve never owned a cat but based on all the internet cats I’ve seen, I love cats very much.
A few weeks ago, I went to a cat café called The Company of Cats. I didn’t know about that particular cat café until the afternoon that Mystery Friend and I were going.
I was enchanted by The Company of Cats’s cat pun-filled website: “Meowketing Director”, “KGB (Kitty Girl’s Brigade)”, “Catppuccino”. These people speak the language of my people!
After obsessing about the website, I imagined a fun filled night of kitty chin scratches and lots and lots of cat snuggles. Of course, things don’t always turn out as you wish.
Ever since Myanmar opened up its tourism, many people I know of (whether adventurous or not) have visited or have been planning to visit the country.
I realised that Myanmar is no longer just the dream destination for the adventurous when even the aunties started talking about it. One day, my mom casually mentioned to me that a “travel expert on TV” recommended visiting Myanmar and that the country is beautiful and cheap to visit.
Still, I wasn’t adventurous enough to visit Myanmar on my own. I think I’ve used up all my sense of adventure during my 130-day trip around the world. I didn’t feel the energy to make plans, bookings and sketch an itinerary.
That was why when I heard about the Myanmar Airways International (MAI) trip to Myanmar, I grabbed it.
Now’s a chance for me to see Myanmar without the hassle of planning. Of course, the downside of a packaged tour is that you’re bound to your group without much chance to see things outside of the comfortable tour bubble. Still, that’s a price that I’m willing to pay so I could get a glimpse of the country.
Myanmar Airways International (MAI) is a full service carrier and is one of the six airlines with direct flights from Singapore to Yangon.
MAI is one of the six airlines with direct flights from Singapore to Yangon. For a full Myanmar experience, I’d recommend choosing this airline to see the cabin crew dressed in the traditional Myanmar longyi and to listen to the announcements made in the soft Myanmar language.
The inflight magazine is also Myanmar-specific so you can learn more about the country and some of the language in the short 2 hour plus plane ride.
I’m one of the odd people who actually like plane food. MAI’s food did not disappoint. On the flight to Yangon, I had the chicken noodle while on the way back I had curry chicken with prata. They were all delicious.
When the plane flew over Myanmar, I saw emerald green land with slices of rectangular water fields with ribbons of water from the river. The land didn’t look like anything I’ve seen before and I was enchanted.
When we reached Yangon airport, we changed our Singapore dollars to local kyat (pronounced as “cha’t”). It was S$1 to 777 kyat. Or for easier mental calculation, US$1 is about 1,000 kyat.
We were greeted by our tour guide Moon who is from local tour agency Myanmar Tourex. I learned that all the tours that Myanmar Airways International offer are provided by Myanmar Tourex which is a family-run travel agency.
Our first tourist spot was Shwedagon Pagoda where it was said that that eight strands of Gautama Buddha’s hair was enshrined.
We left our slippers at the ground floor and took the elevator to the top where the Pagoda was. Since most of the area was not sheltered, the tiled floor was wet and everyone walked in small steps.
We began the tour in front of an image of Buddha under a bodhi tree. The tour guide told us the history of the pagoda and then led us to the main compound. The first sight of Shwedagon Pagoda made me gasp. At 105 metres high, it towered over the rest of the little pagoda. It still glimmered brightly but I suspect that it would be blindingly gold when there’s sun.
Our guide said there are different “corners” for each day of the week (plus two for Wednesday: Wednesday morning and Wednesday evening) and each person should pray at their respective corners. I left the group to go in search of the Sunday Corner.
Strangely, the days of the week didn’t seem to be arranged accordingly. I walked a large round before finally stopping at the Sunday Corner. There was already a throng of women gathered at the Buddha underneath the Sunday Corner sign. I said a small prayer and jostled with the women to rinse the image of Buddha with little tin cups of water.
It started drizzling heavier at the end of our tour. When we reached the ground level, I couldn’t find my flip flops since they were stored in a different place from my tour groups.
Yangon was only a jumping point for us on this tour. We stayed at Hotel ESTA during our first and last night in Myanmar, the rest of the days were spent at Inle Lake.
Hotel ESTA is run by an enterprising Myanmar lady who spent a large part of her childhood in Singapore. The hotel amenities did not disappoint. I was most pleased that there were enough electrical plugs for two people and an electric kettle with 3-in-1 coffee mix.
For dinner, we had western food. The prawn that came with my pasta was quite large. The banana pancake dessert with vanilla ice cream was to die for.
After enjoying the hot shower, I slept like a baby but woke up at 3am. I was afraid that I might miss the morning alarm and be the last person to arrive at assembly. If it weren’t for the early flight, I would have stayed in bed for much longer.
Since we had to leave very early for both days–the second day to catch a domestic flight and the last day to catch the flight back to Singapore–breakfast was prepared in takeaway boxes for us to bring.
If you don’t have much time in Myanmar and prefer to travel in comfort, it’s best to take the plane to reach the other destinations. It’s comfortable and saves time so it will give you even more time and energy to sight see.
On the day we were flying to Inle Lake, the traffic from Hotel ESTA to the domestic airport was smooth. Yangon’s domestic airport is right next the the modern, boxy international airport.
The domestic airport was blinged out to look like the exterior of a pagoda. It was golden all over even in the dim morning night. I had seen it the previous day but thought that it was a shrine or pagoda to pray for good luck for travellers.
It was pouring while we waited for the plane. I was worried that our domestic plane from Yangon to Heho (the airport nearest to Inle Lake) could not fly.
When it was our time to board, the ground staff lined up with large umbrellas to shelter us from the airport building to the bus and from the bus to the plane.
Even with the heavy rain, the pilots of Air Bagan were able to bring us to our destinations safely. I’m pretty impressed.
I spent most of the days at Inle Lake on a boat. The tourist spots were scattered on different parts of the lake and its shores so it’s quite impossible to try to see everything by bus.
To get a better idea of what to do at Inle Lake, you can check out my separate blog post about What to Do at Inle Lake, Myanmar.
Inle Lake might not be as famous as Bagan or Mandalay but the view on the lake and the floating gardens are definitely something you shouldn’t miss.
We left Inle Lake after two days of touring at Inle Lake, it was time to head back to Yangon for our flight back to Singapore.
One our last day, we had a bit of time to visit Scotts Market for some local shopping. Compared to Ho Chi Minh City’s Bến Thành Market, Scotts Market–now called Bogyoke Aung San Market–is a bit smaller and less warm.
While at the market, I managed to haggle two longyi for 8,000 kyat and some bracelets made from probably-not precious stones.
I tried haggling down thanaka to a ridiculously low price but the vendor refused to sell them to me. I realised that I had crossed the line and became the unpolite tourist who expects everything to be cheap.
My friend from Myanmar later told me that things at the market are overpriced to begin with, still I had a great time and hope to visit again.
Our last dinner in Yangon was the buffet at Shangri-La. My travel buddy Debbie (who wasn’t with me on this trip) and I have an item on our To-Do List when travelling, we should have a buffet at one of the classy hotels because the food would be good and yet cheaper than in Singapore.
The buffet at Shangri-La Yangon gets crowded so remember to make reservations before popping over.
The last night was spent at Hotel ESTA. I had a room switch and ended up with a King-sized bed. It also felt good to be there because of the relatively fast and stable Wi-Fi connection. I really can’t live without my phone.
After this trip, I want to return to Myanmar to see the rest of the country that I haven’t seen. But most importantly, to buy those boxes of thanaka!
This post first appeared on TripZilla Magazine.
Many thanks to TripZilla and Myanmar Airways International who made my trip to Myanmar possible. A big thank you to Myanmar Tourex and Hotel ESTA for the tours and accommodation. As usual, all tasty comments are my own.
Curious about Myanmar? Here are some posts about the country:
Inle Lake is the second largest lake in Myanmar. The estimated surface area of the lake is 116 km2.. During the dry season, the average water depth is 2.1 m, with the deepest point being 3.7 m. During the rainy season, water level can increase by 1.5 m.
Most tourists would stay at Nyaungshwe town and venture out to the river during the day. But I suggest staying at the resorts by the lake so that you’ll be in awe returning to the hotel on boat and admire the view of the lake early in the morning.
You’ll need to hire boats or go on boat tours to see these sights since they are quite spread out. It’s unlikely that you’ll be driving your own boat so I’ll leave out the coordinates.
This monastery used to be called “Jumping Cat Monastery” but now there are no more jumping cats.
The cats used to jump through hoops. However, with too many tourists coming in, the kitties were exhausted from all the show so the monks stopped letting the cats perform.
The monastery has a collection of ancient buddha images made in different styles.
Behind the monastery, you’ll get a good view of some of the floating gardens.
It’s better to call these “Floating Plantations” since they do grow a lot of fruits and vegetables. The farmers gather clumps of water hyacinth and other lake debris into rows then secure these to the lake bed with bamboo poles. They also pour mud from the lake as fertilizer. They then grow their produce on these beds.
The floating beds would rise and fall according to the water level so there’s no worry of flooding. I think it’s very ingenious of them to come up with such a system.
Still, I saw a farmer spraying something onto the plants (while on a boat) so I can’t really say that everything is organic.
The pagoda houses five ancient buddha images that are not recognisable because of the layers of gold leaves stuck onto them.
Right across the pagoda are several floats and boats used during Phaung Daw Ooo festival. The bird float is particularly impressive.
There are many markets going on at Inle Lake at different days of the week. This market near Phaung Daw Oo Paya is held every five-days. People from the mountains would come down with wares to trade.
Fruits here are cheaper than Yangon when they are in season. I bought a juicy mango for 64 cents in July. The ground can get very muddy during rainy season so be sure to not wear your nicest shoes.
Our guide called this place “Mini Bagan” because of the many pagodas. Most of the pagodas from long ago are crumbling and draped with overgrown vines. There seems to be a lot more modern pagoda than antique ones here.
The journey up here is more excited. You need to go upstream to reach this place. Every once in a while, your motorboat comes to a mini dam with a tiny entrance just wide enough for the boat. The water level ahead looks higher but the skilled motorboat men is able to slice through the water without causing any bumpiness.
The boat tour would most likely bring you to the neighbourhoods at Inle Lake where you get a glimpse of daily life. The houses in the photo are built on bamboo stilts and some houses have garages for their motorboats.
In the evening, you will see children taking their baths in the water, right at the bottom of the house. There are also small boats rowed by what seems to be equally small children.
Oarsmen of Inle Lake
Not exactly a site per se. The fishermen (and sometimes oarsmen) of Inle Lake are famous for their cone-shaped fishing net and boat rowing skills (oddly called Stand Up Paddle Inle-Style on some website).
There was one particular guy in the middle of the lake who seemed to be there just for tourists to take photo. He stands up on one leg and poses. Sometimes he poses with what seems to be a dead fish.
This post first appeared on TripZilla Magazine.
Curious about Myanmar? Here are some posts about the country:
Myanmar’s rainy season is from May to early October. Traditionally, this is a low season for tourism to Myanmar.
I visited Myanmar right right smack in the middle of the wet season in July. My Burmese friend warned that it would be very wet in Yangon but cool at Inle Lake.
After my 5-day trip to Myanmar, I conclude that it’s actually very nice to visit Myanmar in the rainy season.
I don’t particularly enjoy being under the scorching sun when I travel, especially after I had sunstroke in Sri Lanka.
Travelling during the rainy season, there’s not a lot of sun around and the weather is cool.
It’s usually cheaper to visit any country during low season. It’s the same for Myanmar.
At Heho Airport, the nearest domestic airport to Inle Lake, resorts even advertise their cheaper packages for the wet season. This was charmingly called “Drizzle Relax Package”.
I’m not sure if it’s because Myanmar’s tourism is just getting started but there weren’t a lot of foreign tourists when we were. There were a few Western tourists and some South Koreans at the resort we stayed at.
It didn’t feel crowed when we visited the sites.
I’m usually a mosquito magnet. Anywhere outside of Singapore, I get swarmed by mosquitos and come back with souvenirs in the form of nasty itchy 10-cent coin bumps.
But during my 4-day in Myanmar (with two spent at water-heavy Inle Lake), I only had less than three mosquito bites.
However, according to science, mosquitoes can still fly when it rains. So I can’t say if Myanmar mosquitoes don’t like my blood or if it really was due to rainy season.
I only have a point-and-shoot digital camera. The effect of photos on a cloudy or rainy day is not as good as bright sunny days. But it does give a melancholy look to the photos.
If it’s raining hard, you’ll need to carry an umbrella around while sightseeing. I discovered how difficult it is to juggle a camera, a selfie stick and an umbrella.
If you’re visiting the countryside, it’s very likely that the ground is not paved and you’ll end up with super muddy shoes after a walk. At times like these, it’s best to wear your flip flops so you can clean your feet easily.
This post was first published on TripZilla Magazine.
Curious about Myanmar? Here are some posts about the country:
I just came back from a trip to Myanmar. I was on a tour group so I didn’t get to do a lot of things on my own. That’s why I’ll definitely go back. Before I drown you with posts about Myanmar, here’s a guide to applying for a Myanmar visa in Singapore.
When I was told that I could go to Myanmar, I only had less than 2 weeks before departure so I had to be quick about my visa application.
I was debating whether I should
In the end, my curiosity made me choose going to the embassy to apply for a visa. After my journey to the embassy, I’ve concluded that it’s really easier and cheaper to get a travel agency to do it for you.
The tourist visa fee is S$35 but there is a hidden administration fee of S$10 that they don’t tell you. Since the embassy is not in the most convenient location and the visa application hours are crazy, you should just save your taxi money and get the visa done at a travel agent.
If you still want to DIY the visa application, here are the details. The Myanmar Embassy website is quite straight forward and will send you an e-mail telling you everything you need to do.
The embassy now has an online appointment system where you need to book a date that you’re heading down to the embassy. I recommend giving yourself an extra day to fill up the form because there might be things that you need to prepare but do not have at hand.
Apart from having all the details about you, you’ll need a digital photo to upload to the system so please have that on your computer.
I chose to take a photo of the physical passport photo for the physical form and upload it to the system. I didn’t want to risk them rejecting my visa application because my hair was swept at a different direction.
After your appointment, the embassy will send an e-mail with some documents that you need to print out. It’s best to print out all three of them.
The form is pretty straight forward but there are parts that made me go, “Huh?” This part about my complexion made me pause a while.
In the end, I wasn’t funny and wrote “Fair” for my complexion and “Dark brown” for my hair color even though my dye job looked more like, “Streaky.”
This step takes a bit of time to get done because there’s a lot of things you need to bring.
Please bring an extra S$10 to the embassy on top of the S$35 visa fees because you’ll need to pay the admin fee.
There are two contradicting opening time in the documents that I’ve received. One told me to be at the embassy before 8am while the other said to reach before 9am.
Even though there is a queue number in your appointment letter, I don’t think there is an actual queue system.
I arrived at the embassy around 8:15am and queued at the “Foreigner” building–the yellow one. There were about eight people in front of me. Then around 8:30am, the counters started operating, even though the forms say the opening time is 9am. Well, anything quick suits me well.
The actual handing over of forms and other documents took about five minutes. I received a collection note. The man at the counter told me I could collect my visa in the evening. He also said that a representative can help with the pick up as long as they have the collection slip.
That was fast.
The visa should be available on the same day, unless your application looks suspicious.
My sister helped me collect my visa so I didn’t have to take time off work and take a cab to the embassy. Thanks sis!
After all the trouble, I recommend applying the visa using a travel agent. You won’t need to take time off work to apply and it might be just S$20 extra (which is less than most taxi money to and from the embassy twice).
While my visa application and trip has been a success, I’ve heard stories about people not being able to get a visa to Myanmar. To summarize, here are the things to take note of:
Curious about Myanmar? Here are some posts about the country:
If you follow YQtravelling on Instagram, you would have known that I’ll be going to Myanmar. I’m finally travelling far after a long hiatus. I’m both nervous and excited about travelling.
I’m leaving on Sunday and returning to Singapore on Thursday. During the 5-day-4-night trip, I’ll be spending my trip in Yangon and Inle Lake with a small tour group.
Source: The Nomad Damsel (I borrow this photo for a while, ok? Thanks!)
It’s been a while since I’ve blogged. Why? Because I haven’t been travelling much so I don’t know what I could share with you good folks.
Anyway, I wanted to give a short update on what’s been happening while I was YQnotTravelling.
Strangely, there is no official job title for it since the stuff on my name card doesn’t really match my real job. So I introduce myself professionally as a “Content Marketer” but the actual duties are that of a “Blogger”. It’s still unbelievable today that I’m an actual Blogger (with a big B).
Enough about boring work stuff, now it’s time for the fun stuff.
Since I was hired in March, I couldn’t take long periods of leave for travelling so I had been stuck in Singapore for a while.
I might have Stockholm syndrome since I don’t think life was that boring in the previous months:
I travelled to small town Raub in Pahang for a friend’s wedding. It was great meeting my old friends and getting to feast at the wedding dinner. Om nom nom.
More happy things happened!
The official wedding dinner is happening next year but they’re going to register this year. More and more happy things happened.
I absolutely adore improv ever since I saw it on Whose Line Is It Anyway? (Improv-A-Ganza is awesome too, with the same cast). I didn’t know it was a real thing that I could actually do.
Then I found out that The Improv Company teaches improv. I’m going to sign up for their longer course when their schedule suits me.
I had to jump through multiple hoops to get the soundtrack for Draculabut I have it now! And I play it again and again. This beats trying to listen on Youtube.
Since I’m stuck in Singapore for a while until any major trips. I thought it would be good to share with you some of the places in Singapore to visit or things to do.